Samui Wining & Dining
A Chang is as Good as a Rest

A look at some of the local beers in Thailand

 A look at some of the local beers in ThailandThere can be nothing more refreshing than an ice-cold drink on a hot sunny day. And if you’re a beer drinker that probably means only one drink will do. But don’t stick to what you know. Take the plunge and try out some of the local Thai beer. You will be pleasantly surprised. Thai beers are all basically light, German style beers, and while not to everyone’s taste, they are perfect in the hot weather here. So go ahead and order one. Be warned however that with an average alcohol content of 5% they are stronger than the beers you might find back home.

Beer was first introduced to Thailand by Europeans, but by the early 1930’s, Thais had started brewing their own. Singha was the first locally produced beer and is still the best known brand outside of Thailand. In recent years though, Chang has become highly competitive, giving it a run for its money.

Singha is produced by Boon Rawd Brewery, a family enterprise that is still in the same family hands. It was founded by Khun Boonrawd Sreshthaputra.

He was born in 1872, and educated at home by his father until the age of 11, when he was sent to a temple to be further educated by the monks. After a short period of schooling at the temple, he started work. Firstly as a teacher, then a clerk and then a car dealer. He set up his own business ferrying people across the Chao Praya River, between Bangkok and Thonburi. The business was successful at first, but with the building of bridges and more competition, and with his customer base declining, he looked around for something else to do. He became interested in brewing beer, and soon had a dream to open up his own brewery. He submitted a request, in 1930, to the Thai government to do so, and in the meantime took the opportunity to tour Germany and Denmark learning all he could about beer making operations there. In 1933, his dream came true when the Boon Rawd Brewery produced the first bottles of Thai beer, Singha.

Singha beer is known for its label which depicts a mystical lion from Hindu and Thai legends. If you look closer at the label you will also notice that above the image of the lion and the name Singha, is a winged mythical animal, the Garuda. This is a royal warrant, and was awarded to the company in 1939. Boonrawd is the only Thai brewery to be granted permission to display this.

To this day all ingredients used in the beer are sourced from Thailand in order to maintain the same flavour and quality as the original. Currently it’s available as the original Singha, Draught Singha or, with just 3.5 % alcohol content, as Singha Light. The light version has a milder taste but is still very pleasing and doesn’t have a watered down taste. You can find Singha beer at any restaurant you go to in Thailand, from high end to street stalls. When ordering Singha in Thai, remember it is pronounced ‘sing’ without the ‘ha’ sound at the end.

Ranking alongside Singha as one of the top beers in Thailand is Chang. It’s a newer beer on the market, and was first produced in 1995. However it is now the number one selling beer in Thailand. In the Thai language, the word ‘chang’ means elephant. You can see on the green labels two white elephants facing each other across a gold fountain. It’s generally sold in bottles in restaurants and bars but you can find it in cans at convenience stores and supermarkets. So-called ‘Chang towers’ which can hold a couple of litres of beer apiece are also sold in some restaurants, particularly at the all-you-can-eat places. These are ideal for a group of people eating and drinking together.

With an alcohol content of 6.4%, the Chang Classic really has a kick. To give you an idea, a regular 250 ml can or bottle is double the strength of a regular US lager beer. So keep this in mind if you decide to try it. There are many who refer to the ‘changover’ effect of the beer. It’s brewed with malt and rice as well as hops, which gives it a maltier taste and a more amber colour. While Chang is strong, bear in mind that Thais drink their beer in a glass of ice, watering down the beer. So when you’re at a restaurant don’t be surprised if the waiter asks you if you’d like a glass of ice, ‘nam keng’ for your beer.

Chang Export, which is usually found outside of Thailand, does not use rice and has a lower alcohol content of 5%. And Chang Light is still a reasonable 4.2%. Chang beer is produced by the company ThaiBev which is owned by the Thai billionaire Khun Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi. In 2004, the company became the sponsor of Everton football club in the UK. This brought wider international recognition for the brand.

In the same year ThaiBev launched Archa beer. It’s cheaper and has a lower alcohol content than Chang. This beer also uses rice in its production, and is popular with many Australians. Singha also have a budget beer, Leo, which is aimed primarily at the working classes. Both these beers are much lighter in taste, which may suit some drinkers who prefer a lower alcohol content, but they may not be available in the higher end restaurants where you’re more likely to find Singha.

If you decide on a sunny afternoon you’d like to pop into the supermarket to pick up a bottle of beer, check your watch first. If you are after just one or two bottles, be aware you cannot buy from 2:00 pm to 5:00 pm – unless, that is, you buy enough beer to fill a crate, in which case your purchase will be happily rung up. And you can drink in a restaurant all day. It’s an odd situation, but one to keep in mind while you are here.


Natalie Hughes


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